While most workplace teams try to step around conflict and avoid it all costs, there are times when it is not all bad and can even be turned into a constructive force.
The most dangerous situation is pretending that it doesn’t exist or hoping that it goes away, because then it can destroy what you are trying to achieve and team gatherings may descend into a battle of egos.
This is where skilled and strong team leadership becomes important, to steer the team through the processes while keeping the end goal in mind.
‘Healthy’ or ‘Unhealthy’ Conflict
This is perhaps best explained by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem in The Big Book of HR. Conflict is negative or ‘unhealthy’ when:
- Differences are not addressed
- Expectations are not managed
- Assumptions rather than facts are central to the disagreement
- The individuals involved or affected don’t want to be part of the solution
Conversely, conflict is positive or ‘healthy’ when:
- The value of conflict and differences are honoured and respected
- Issues are open and not masked
- Ideas not personalities are central
- Emotions are managed and points of view expressed in a skillful and respectful manner
The difference between a high performing team and an under-performing team often lies in how conflict is managed and the overall ‘mindset’ of the group.
One Strategic Mindset
The key to leading teams successfully lies in understanding the potential conflicts that will always arise due to different personalities and mindsets in the group, but approaching all team goals with one strategic mindset.
Within this mindset there is space for individual expression – indeed, it is encouraged – but the steps that the team take in their decision-making processes account for this, while still arriving at an equitable decision for the team and the organisation as a whole.
A process such as this can work to bring the team closer together and actually stimulate group members, improving creativity and decision-making, and overcoming ill-feeling.
Conversely, if you have no plan or process, this will likely drive the team to emotional behaviour and an atmosphere of fear and threat. Discussions will jump from team member to team member without structure, and good decisions are simply not possible in the simmering chaos; everyone walks away feeling worse than when they were brought together.
One Strategic Mindset
High performance teams usually pass through a series of steps when solving problems and making decisions. These steps focus individual team members on different parts of the discussion and the different views within it.
There are essentially eight ‘strategic mindsets’ present in team situations and they each relate to a necessary part of the discussion:
Crusader – Identify the work that needs to be done, expectations of what will be achieved and resources available to the group.
Bard – Explore what success will look like; ensure there is a safe environment where new legacy issues are put to bed and ideas can be embraced.
Chancellor – Look for connections between different ideas that might achieve the same goal.
Commander – Identify problems or blockages and find solutions.
Architect – Make sure the chosen solution aligns with the broader strategy; ensure the group has access to the capabilities needed to deliver.
Navigator – Establish a process for implementation and agree on key milestones and responsibilities.
Treasurer – Confirm how progress will be measured and how to manage any additional resources that will be required.
Judge – Establish how the outcome will be communicated to the wider organisation to create buy-in; identify quick wins to turn talk into action; identify what needs to be done before the next meeting.
The above is an inclusive model that involves everybody in the group – and anyone can contribute at any time – though individuals with a dominance of one particular mindset may tend to be the strongest voice at that step of the discussion.
With this process, decisions flow more naturally and address the needs of all group members, whatever their particular mindset. The team effectively comes together with ‘one mind’, rather than splintering and becoming disengaged.